Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 - AVE ATQUE VALE


Rainbow over Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, symbolizing the calm after the storm. Maybe.

Today is the last day of 2016.

It is the forty-first anniversary of my meeting Dee for the first time. It is also the penultimate day of Chanukah. The final day of Chanukah rarely coincides with the secular New Year’s Day, 1979 being the last time it happened... but here we are. 

Many of us will be more than happy to see this year depart, for this was a year in which the Grim Reaper’s scythe fell heavily in the fields of celebrity, especially among the musicians who provided so much of the sonic landscape of the past thirty-plus years. David Bowie. Prince. George Michael. Leon Russell. Leonard Cohen. Merle Haggard. John Berry. Maurice White. Paul Kantner. Glenn Frey. Frank Sinatra Jr.

Not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea.

Other pop icons were not exempt. The final week of the year saw the demise of Carrie Fisher, carried off by a heart attack at the age of sixty... and then joined the very next day in the World to Come by her mother, Debbie Reynolds. Tragic.

The year 2016 also saw a Presidential election in these United States that will be the subject of innumerable history books for decades - perhaps centuries - to come. Not even Marty McFly could have imagined that Biff Tannen (for whom Donald Trump was the inspiration) would be elected President a mere year after 2015. Interesting times.

On the personal front, the year brought its share of challenges as well. The first four months were almost entirely occupied with Dee’s painful recovery from a Christmas Eve fall that broke her left hip and simultaneously shattered her left wrist. As if that were not enough, both of her brothers had major health issues early in the year (from which they have since recovered, thank Gawd, kein ayin hara.) The only good thing you can say about health issues is that if you survive them, you can either live in terror of the next problem to come along, or you can appreciate life and its manifold daily blessings a little more. 

But it hasn’t been all thorns in the Elisson rose garden... not by a long shot.

Elder Daughter has kept a busy frantic schedule, developing performances and bringing them to the stage in places such as Berlin, Ljubljana, and far flung Philadelphia. The Mistress of Sarcasm is now ensconced in Kingston, NY, where she and her boyfriend are modifying a building to house them, their respective studios, and a few paying tenants.  Meanwhile, The Other Elisson - my kid brother - has had a wonderful year, not only celebrating having logged six decades’ worth of Circumsolar Voyages, but finding a Special Someone who, to all appearances, has brought real delight into his life.

Chez Elisson is now home to two - count ’em! - two kitties. Edith, a muscular tuxedo shorthair barely out of her kittenhood, joined us in September, a gift from the Mistress of Sarcasm. She and Stella have gradually worked toward a modus vivendi after an initial period of mutual loathing. Together, they provide endless moments of amusement... and together, they generate massive amounts of Kitty-Waste, thus providing continuous employment for our Litter Genie.

A wise woman once told us that love is a verb... and it was in the early weeks of 2016 that her words took on a deep and resonant meaning for me. Love is a verb, and it’s the things you do that matter far more than the things you say. As I have observed previously, the Cocktail of Life is inevitably a mixture of the sweet, the sour, and the bitter, and it is the balance between those elements that allows us to taste joy to its fullest. May your 2017 bring you joy in its greatest measure... with health, happiness and fulfillment, without limit to any good thing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

FAREWELL, PRINCESS


Carrie Fisher (1956-2016) as Princess Leia in Star Wars, the film that instantaneously transformed her into an icon.

2016, with less than one week left to go, has claimed yet another pop culture luminary in a year that saw the Reaper’s scythe especially busy among the greats of music and film. Carrie Fisher, the daughter of Hollywood royalty and herself a filmic icon owing to her roles in the films of the Star Wars saga, has passed away at the age of sixty.

Most of us of a certain age remember the first time we saw Fisher - the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds - onscreen. It was in Star Wars (the first, the original Star Wars, when it was the only Star Wars, before the nonsense of calling it “Episode IV - A New Hope”) shortly after the implacably evil Darth Vader made his appearance. Darth was Bad News, and we knew that Princess Leia was in Big Trouble... but there was a steely resolve in her character that belied the outward tropes of the standard Damsel in Distress archetype. Dressed in flowing white raiment, she was the representative of all that was good in her cinematic universe... unlike the stormtroopers surrounding her, whose white outfits were simply there to offer a photographic contrast to their evil, ebon-clad Department Manager.

Fisher did not have the easiest life: Children of Hollywood royalty seldom do. The sudden shock of unexpected fame? Not exactly, because Carrie was famous simply by birthright. After the huge success of Star Wars, she was more than famous - she was instantly and forever a part of the popular consciousness to a completely unprecedented degree. But add to that problematic degree of celebrity a cocktail of drugs, inappropriate relationships, and bipolar disorder, and it’s a miracle she survived the 1980’s. Thanks to rehab and a sardonic wit that blossomed when she began to write, she did.

Sixty is far too soon to move on to the World to Come. At least, so it seems to me, someone who lost his mother when she was that same age. We will miss you, Carrie.

Ave atque vale, Princess - may your soul plumb the deeps of space and those galaxies far, far away.

Postscriptum: One day after Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing, her heartbroken mother joined her in the World to Come, having suffered a stroke. Or was it a broken heart?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

WHAMMY


George Michael, 1963-2016. [Image credit: CNN.]

George Michael, he dropped and collapsed to the floor.
His heart stopped its beating, his lungs breathed no more.
And as his form slumped to the floor with a slam,
The last word that fell on his ears - it was WHAM!

(2016, with only one week left to run, claims yet another victim in the music business. Ave atque vale, Mr. Michael.)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

THE DAY EVERYTHING CHANGED

Forgive me if I don’t always welcome the arrival of Christmas in the spirit appropriate to the season.

It’s not because I’m a Red Sea Pedestrian. Sure, Christmas is not my holiday... but what gives my neighbors and friends joy gives me joy as well. And besides, it is just as well that we Jews do not celebrate Christmas: If we did, the observant ones among us would find ways to inject an unbelievably complex layer of laws, regulations, and customs into the proceedings.

No, it’s simply that Santa has not been especially nice to us lately. Christmas has brought us a few unpleasant lumps of coal in our figurative stockings.

Christmas Day 2011 was the day my dad - Eli, hizzownself - suffered a massive stroke. He lived a little over two years after that, but never again was he really hiszzownself, having been changed instantaneously from a vigorous, athletic man into a hemiplegic invalid.

And it was exactly one year ago today - Christmas Eve, 2015 - that Dee suffered the fall that simultaneously shattered her wrist, broke her hip, and left lasting scars on her self-confidence.


No, not the door to a stateroom on a cruise ship, alas.

It was rough going for a while. A Christmas Day surgery to put bones together and implant the necessary plates, screws, pins, and spikes, followed by months of recovery. It made the transition into 2016 challenging, with yet more challenges to come as the new year wore on.

Dee is doing much better now, and this evening we enjoyed our traditional first night of Chanukah dinner - takeout Chinese food and Dee’s incredible potato latkes, a bizarre combination with which we memorialize my mother, gone now for twenty-eight years. Yes, it was Christmas Eve. But we were celebrating with dear friends, and so I did not fear the arrival of the Man in the Red Suit with his sometimes perverse gifts.

Happy Chanukah to our fellow Red Sea Pedestrians... and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it! May the holidays bring blessings of health and peace to you and all you love.

(And for the rest of us, there’s always Festivus.)

A CHANUKAH EDITORIAL



[If Dear Abby can get away with reprinting the same frickin’ Holiday Columns every stinking year, why not Elisson? We are therefore pleased to offer this twelve-year-old Editorial Response previously published here and at Blog d’Elisson, one that is both timely and appropriate to the season. Chanukah begins at sundown Saturday evening, December 24 this year, its first day coinciding with Christmas for the first time since 1978.]

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the electronic-mail communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Lost in the Cheese Aisle:
“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there was no Judah Maccabee and that Chanukah is a load of crap. Papa says, ‘If you see it in Lost in the Cheese Aisle, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, was there a Judah Maccabee?” - Patty O’Furniture
Patty, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All they care about is that fat red-suited guy who schleps presents to Yenemvelt and back. All minds, Patty, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, goornisht, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Patty, there was a Judah Maccabee.

He existed as certainly as dedication and courage and devotion exist. He kicked some serious ass back in the day, Judah did, throwing the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and reclaiming the holy Temple. His struggle was a struggle against assimilation, against those who would be seduced by the pop culture of the day. He fought his battles so that we Jews would retain our cultural identity and not be swallowed up in the prevailing pagan mainstream. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there had been no Judah Maccabee! It would be as dreary as if there were no Pattys. (Or furniture.) There would be no candle-lighting then, no singing Ma-oz Tzur (or even those stupid dreidel songs), no commemoration of the miraculous rededication of the Temple. No Judah? We would even today be schmearing ourselves with olive oil and burning pig hearts as sacrifices to Zeus. And our Christian friends would have no Christmas - for the culture that gave rise to Jesus would have been wiped out. The eternal light - the ner tamid - with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Judah? You might as well not believe in fairies. Or the Matzohball That Does Not Sink. Or Eliyahu ha-Navi. You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the seder tables of the world to catch a glimpse of Eliyahu, but even if you did not see him, what would that prove? Nobody ever sees Eliyahu ha-Navi drink his wine at the Seder table, but that is no sign that there is no Eliyahu ha-Navi. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. (Although those footprints in the grass were more likely made by your Papa as he tried to sneak back into the house with a snootful of booze after the office Xmas party.) Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You can tear apart the knish and see the tasty filling inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Patty, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Judah Maccabee? Thank G-d he lived - and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Patty, nay, 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to chase the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and combat the forces of cultural assimilation, making glad the heart of childhood.

Happy Chanukah!

[Originally posted on December 25, 2004.]

Friday, December 23, 2016

LADIES OF THE CARIBBEAN: A PAEAN


The sparkling blue waters of St. Kitts.

The ladies of the Caribbean
I just can’t wait until I see ’em

The ladies of St. Thomas
All brim with lustful promise

The ladies of St. Kitts
They have such lovely tits

The ladies of Barbados
Wow - look at them tomatoes!

The ladies of St. Martin
They just can’t wait to start in

The ladies of the Caribbean
I just can’t wait until I see ’em

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A PEARL HARBOR DAY OBSERVATION


USS Arizona

Oil still seeps from the grave of the USS Arizona.

Seventy-five years ago today was “the day which will live in infamy.”

A lot changes in seventy-five years. A lot changes in just a few decades, for that matter... a thought I had back in 1992 as I was eating sushi in Düsseldorf, Germany. Generations come and go, and hateful feelings become distant memories. And that is, perhaps, as it should be.

But always - always! - we should remember those we have lost. And, as George Santayana famously observed, we should remember history, lest we be condemned to repeat it.

Monday, December 5, 2016

PESO-FICATION


Theatrical posters, Mexico City. Photographed in December, 1977.

Is it just me?

Thirty-nine years ago, my in-laws celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with a week-long trip to Mexico City... and we, being relative newlyweds at the time, were invited to join them.

For the most part, it was a delightful vacation, certain infamous parts of which I have described previously. It was on that trip that I discovered my father-in-law’s foolproof method for coping with exotic, unfamiliar Mexican cuisine: at all times, order the carne asada. Bill and I became veritabobble connoisseurs of grilled meat that week.

Back then, the Mexican peso and the US dollar were trading at a ratio of roughly 8:1. One dollar would buy about eight pesos, so prices in most places were expressed with numbers about eight times higher than the same prices back home.

It occurs to me that, with the gradual inflation that has taken place over that roughly four-decade span, that our prices today in US dollars look an awful lot like those peso-based prices did then.

Go to any white-tablecloth restaurant and an appetizer will set you back six to eight pesos - er, dollars - maybe more, even in the lowly suburbs. A mixed drink is now routinely more than a half-sawbuck, a tariff that until recently would be seen only in major urban centers like New York.

Concert tickets? They’ve gone up too, way more than even college tuition. Seeing the Grateful Dead in a gymnasium cost me all of three bucks back when I was in college. Now that Jerry Garcia actually is dead (and the rest of the band is fairly decrepit), you need to shell out $150 to see them at Lakewood Amphitheatre, where you need a set of binoculars to see the stage. That’s fifty times more expensive for a show that (nowadays) consists of a bunch of grandpas ’n’ guitars. Yeef!

Some of this is due to Starbuckization: our willingness to pay high prices for everyday items because they provide an artisanal touch that we value... or simply because they’re marketed effectively. The cup of Joe squirted out by a barista is so much nicer than the stuff the local luncheonette pours out of the Bunn carafe, and we are willing to pay for it. That nice bottle of water that costs two bucks at the gas station (or five bucks at the movie theatre) isn’t all that different from the stuff that comes out of the tap for almost nothing... but we buy it.

And some of it is due to the tendency of us Old Mature Folks to use the prices we became familiar with in our younger days as the measuring stick with which we assess everything around us. Of course I don’t expect to pay the same 25¢ for lunch that I did in grade school... but that memory stays with me anyway. The $20 that bought me a week’s worth of groceries in college now might cover a single meal’s worth of provender... and I remember that, too. I remember how much I paid for my first apartment... my first car... my first house. (I also remember how much my first annual salary was. It was, as you’d expect, proportionately minuscule.) Everything costs more now.

Look, price inflation is not surprising. Hell, when I visited Rio de Janeiro in 1988, prices in Brazil were inflating at the rate of one percent a day. That meant that every three years, the value of your money would drop to one-tenth of one percent of its earlier value. You would spend every paycheck immediately: Use it or lose it. And every three years, the government would lop three zeroes off its currency denominations and give it a new name. Cruzeiros. Cruzados. New Cruzados.

We haven’t had to do that here. Yet.

So when I go to the mall and gape, horrified, at every price tag, part of my horror is simply because those price tags look like something I might have seen in Mexico almost forty years ago. For those of us of a certain age, sticker shock is simply a way of life.

Now, get the hell off my lawn!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM


Mom, age 21 - her college graduation photograph from 1949.

Today is Mom’s eighty-ninth birthday. Too bad she’s not around to enjoy it with us.

On the first night of Chanukah, we will celebrate her special day the same way we’ve done for the last twenty-nine years - by eating potato latkes and Chinese food. But since the first night of Chanukah coincides with Christmas Eve this year, we have a few more weeks to wait.

On birthdays, most of us have cakes on our minds. While a potato latke is, technically, a sort of cake, it is not what we think of when we think “birthday cake.” We usually imagine some sweet production, often with icing or a glaze. And candles... because birthday.

Mom wasn’t much of a cake person... at least, not in my recollection. (The Other Elisson may remember things differently.) As far as I know, she baked one - one! - cake in the entire time I lived at home with her, a rather tasty spice cake. She bought enough coconut custard pies and blueberry tarts to keep the Dugan man in business, but her favorite treat was a bowl of ice cream, devoured in front of the teevee set in the late evening.

So I suppose it would be entirely appropriate to celebrate her Special Day by having a nice big bowl of ice cream, perhaps with a forest of candles crammed into it. Burnt Alaska.

A perfect Rob Roy - Mom’s favorite.
But no. Anyone can eat ice cream. Mom’s special pleasure, though, was a perfect Rob Roy, best described as a Manhattan made with blended Scotch in lieu of rye or bourbon. It was an occasional treat, something she would enjoy for the odd celebratory evening... such as her birthday. And that’s what I will use to toast her memory this evening.

Ut absente mater mia. I hope you’re enjoying a Rob Roy in the World to Come.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

SUCCOS COMES BUT ONCE A YEAR



Father Succos flies his sleigh
To celebrate each festive day
He visits all the girls and boys
And brings etrogim ’stead of toys

When children see him, they cry, “Looka!
Will we get s’kach upon our sukkah?”
Both Easter Bunny and Santa Claus
Say, “Father Succos? He’s the boss!”

[Yes, I know I’m almost two months too late. Or maybe three weeks early. But inspiration strikes when inspiration strikes, if you can call it that.]

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 27

Still more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives. For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

Our latest entry:

epoophany [eh-poo-fa-ni] (n) – A sudden intuitive perception in which one realizes that the horrifying red color of one’s stool is due to one’s having consumed beetroot the previous evening and is not, in fact, the result of a massive intestinal hemorrhage.

[This one occurred to me yesterday evening as I was consuming a beet salad. Really.]

Monday, November 28, 2016

THE CARTOONIST: A 100-WORD STORY

Dead Mouse

Walter walked the studio grounds, lost in nervous concentration.

He needed a new character. Mickey had been packing theatres for years – not bad for a lousy cartoon short! – but rentals had begun to sag.

Face it: The Mouse was a victim of his own success. Originally a mischievous trickster, he was now good-natured and bland. Booooring. What he needed was a foil. A character with a rotten disposition, to create dramatic tension. But who?

He almost tripped on the duck’s carcass. It lay by the side of the pond, half-eaten. Hmmm...

Two months later, Morty Maggot opened to rave reviews.

[An earlier version of “The Cartoonist” was originally published at Laurence Simon’s The 100-Word Stories Podcast, where you can also hear an audio version.]

Sunday, November 20, 2016

THE STARBY GUY



Naw, you don’t have to waste your pamphlets on me. I’ll be voting the Green Lady, just like last time.

I’m old enough to remember having my first Starbucks coffee, on a chill winter’s day back in 1991. So I guess you could say I was a Party man from way back... a whole lifetime ago, seems like.

It was the Citizens United decision that changed everything. Once corporations were considered to be people for the sake of funneling money into the political process, it was only a matter of time before they were considered to be people who could actually hold political office. At least, so said the post-Trump SCOTUS, and nobody felt like arguing. Argumentative folks had a way of disappearing.

Hell, we didn't even need a Constitutional amendment to do it, according to SCOTUS... and they had the final say-so. As long as a corporation was founded in these United States and was at least thirty-five years old, it could hold political office. Well, it wasn't long after that we elected our first corporate President. ExxonMobil, it was.

It didn’t take too long for folks to figure out that the old parties had stopped making sense any more. The Dems were the first to shutter their offices, but the GOP followed suit just a few years after. No point having political parties in a corpocracy. The corps fed us our news, made sure we had food, allocated our medical care, and decided which wars we needed to fight. Good times.

No, really. It was good times. Anything would have been better than the mid-teens, when the Western-Islam wars started. Only good thing you could say about the Pence-Huckabee Crusades was that they helped take our minds off the world economic collapse. Seems that nobody in the Trump administration remembered Hawley-Smoot from 1930. Jacking up tariffs and starting trade wars is like throwing gasoline on a burning dumpster of an economy, and things had already gone south after the Haircut Act.

Everyone remembers the Haircut, I guess. The Cheeto Jesus boys must’ve thought it would be a great idea to renegotiate interest on our national debt. But a sovereign nation’s obligations are a touch more serious than corporate bonds. China practically shit their collective pants, on account of they held so much of our paper. When they eighty-sixed their dollar holdings, the whole damn thing tanked. It was like the world was a great big casino, and ol’ Don knew how to run those... right into the ground. When the Dow dropped below 2,700, there were a whole lot of unhappy people. Donnie Boy and his crew ended up getting it in the neck - the scene in the Trump Tower bunker was right outta May 1945, I hear.

Thank PopeCo the wars ended when we elected ExxonMobil. Peace with the Arabs (and the Iranians, and the Turks) was the only way they could keep the oil flowing. Ceding most of Europe to the Caliphate wasn’t too high a price to pay, and the economy started to come back.

And now that the Starbucks administration has been running things, we have plenty of coffee to drink and muffintops to eat. No, those aren’t raisins, do you think I’m a department head? Roach-nuggets. Lotsa protein, and they’re crunchy.

Now it’s election time. McDonald’s is running (again!), and Facebook is mounting yet another third-party campaign, but I think I’m gonna stick with the Mermaid. We’ve had it pretty good for the last few years... you would be amazed at how hard people can work when they’re jacked up on Flat Whites and mochaccinos.

So keep your literature for the next fellow: You don’t need to convince me. Yeah, I’m a Starby guy. Good times, right?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

FATE CATCHES UP, YET AGAIN


Leonard Cohen, z''l (1934-2016). Barukh dayan emet.

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of May,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?

 - Leonard Cohen, “Who by Fire”

Leonard Cohen has passed away at the age of 82.

His song “Who by Fire” (lyrics above) is a rough paraphrase of U-netaneh Tokef, a prayer from the Jewish High Holiday liturgy which enumerates any number of the fates that may await each of us in the coming year. This, alas, was the year when fate caught up with Cohen... as it has with so many other beloved names in the music business.

Cohen’s songs were often covered by others (for “Hallelujah” the total may run into the thousands), but his unique gravelly voice provided the definitive texture for so many of them.

Fare you well, Lenny. You will be missed... and may your family and fans be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

LOATHSOME TREATS

A few days ago, I saw something truly horrific in the local Food Emporium... loathsome enough for me to prop it up and photograph it. Feast your eyes:


Pumpkin Spice Latte Peeps. Yeef.

It is telling that I found these on the “We Are Desperately Trying To Get Rid Of These Items And So We Are Selling Them At A Steep Discount” table. But some things are so nasty, they have negative value: You can’t pay people to take them. These is they.

Peeps - the basic yellow, blue, or pink kind - are inconsequential enough. Marshmallows shaped to look like little birdies. I suppose that if you love either (1) marshmallows, or (2) little birdies, they are inoffensive. And you can amuse yourself with them if you are of a perverse frame of mind. Float one in your hot chocolate and imagine it peeping in horror as it realizes that its hindquarters are dissolving! Pop a flock of ’em in your microwave and watch ’em expand!

But now we have Peeps in various flavors, the classic shelf-space grab. Candy corn flavor. Red velvet cake flavor. And ((shiver)) pumpkin spice latte flavor. Feh. Even the peeps themselves hate it: Look at the disgusted expression on the little guy in the center, like an old man who has been given a bad diagnosis.

What happens when Peeps grow up.
Finding those Peeps made me wonder: What other confections are out there that inspire fear and loathing? For me, it’s things like Jujubes, Necco Wafers, and Circus Peanuts. “Heritage” treats - the kind that you find at the Crapper Cracker Barrel - are a mixed lot. The same Nik-L-Nips that I loved as a kid are vile to me now, perhaps because I’ve outgrown my taste for little wax bottles containing a few drops of tooth-shatteringly sweet fruit-flavored fluid.

Hard candies of any kind are, to me, difficult to love. Root beer barrels? Fuck’m. On the other hand, anything with chocolate - real chocolate, not that palm kernel oil shit - is eminently desirable.

What say you? What candies did you despise when you were a kid? And what candies do you hate today?
  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

THE COLANDER THING

Darth Elisson

People sometimes ask me, “Elisson, what is up with you and those stupid fucking colanders that you are always putting on your empty noggin?”

My answer is severalfold.

First, my noggin is not - despite all evidence to the contrary - empty. Research has shown that there is an actual cauliflower in there.

Second (and this is the real answer to your question, by the bye), this is why.

HE WAS A BOLD MAN THAT FIRST EAT AN ETROG

He was a bold man that first eat an oyster.” - Jonathan Swift
“Oyster, schmoyster. He was a bold man that first eat an etrog.” - The Bard of Affliction


This time of year, after the whirlwind Red Sea Pedestrian Holiday Season is concluded, we inevitably face a decision: what to do with the leftover etrog.

The etrog (pronounced esrig in Ashkenazic Yiddish) is a citron, the “p’ri hadar” (beautiful fruit) mentioned in the Bible. It is used as a ritual object during the observance of Sukkot, the fall Feast of Tabernacles, a time when exceptionally lovely specimens command astonishing prices amongst  communities of observant Jews.


A sunny yellow etrog.

After the Sukkot festival concludes, though, the etrog’s utility as a ritual object drops to nil. It’s too beautiful (and usually, too costly) to merely toss in the trash, so the reasonable question is: What do we do with the damned thing it?

It turns out there are plenty of things you can do with it. (Whether any of ’em make sense is for you to decide.)

First and foremost, you can just simply let your etrog sit around until it is thoughly dry. Unlike the thin-skinned lemon that will eventually rot, the etrog has a tiny amount of flesh, an appalling number of seeds, and a thick hide. As a result, instead of getting nasty and moldy - like that stupid pumpkin you still have on your front porch - the etrog simply shrinks and becomes rock-hard. You can then use it to pitch at the neighborhood kids (“Get off my lawn!”) or simply put it in a suitable container. Eventually, you can have a collection like mine. (Keep in mind that, until recently, I also had collections of shoe horns, matchbooks, hotel shoe polishing cloths, and hotel soaps and shampoos.)


My slowly growing pile of dried-up etrogs.

I wonder whether there’s any flavor to these babies. A few minutes with a Microplane and I could be the next Yotam Ottolenghi, huh?

People with more patience than I will sometimes poke holes in their etrog and stud the fruit with cloves. When the whole affair dries, you’ve got a wonderful pomander with which you can scent the inside of your drawers. (The ones in which you park your clothes, not your butt - although the latter presents a simultaneously fascinating and loathsome possibility.) I tried this once, and all I ended up with was a rotten etrog and a lot of wasted cloves. Fail.

There’s also a nifty recipe for etrog-infused vodka floating about. I may try it sometime down the road... because vodka needs help.

Some folks will make marmalade from their etrogim (that’s the Hebrew plural, if you’re curious). But I chose to slice mine up and cook it down in a sugar syrup, much as I would do with a quince.


Etrog slices in syrup. All they need is a maraschino cherry.

These jewel-like babies had a fascinating sweet-sour flavor with a lingering bitter finish. The consensus amongst my taste-testers (thanks Dan and Erica!) was that they were an acquired taste... a polite way of saying “Feh.” But I think they may work well as a cocktail garnish. A sliver of candied etrog on a toothpick would be a fine enhancement for a Negroni!

Postscript: It’s official. I have now created and field-tested the Etrogroni... and it is amazing.

THE SCULPTOR



Our kitty is a sculptor,
A most creative beast:
Her new designs are mighty fine
Carved once a day, at least.

She puts them in a little box,
A present for her Dad -
She never, ever buries them,
For that would make her sad.

They’re parked upon a pedestal
Composed of kitty litter:
A veritable Cat-Rodin,
Her works, they almost glitter

Like golden idols, worshiped
By assorted pagan tribes.
They give forth aromatic fumes
Which some have called “good vibes.”

Our kitty’s sculpture garden,
It grows a bit each day.
As long as we keep feeding her,
She’ll ne’er run out of “clay.”

Monday, October 31, 2016

HAMILTON

In studying the works of Alexander Hamilton recently, I found the most remarkable document:

It is clear from the above that this particular Founding Father was fully acquainted with the value of the Tapered Doody. I propose, therefore, that the Tapered Doody be given the cognomen “Hamilton.”

A properly executed Hamilton is a rare accomplishment of which one may take considerable pride... which explains my exceptionally happy - dare I say proud? - state of mind today.

HALLOWE’EN IN HOUSTON ATLANTA



October has wound down to its final hours, and in keeping with the American passion for Ridiculous Seasonal Obsessions, it’s time to celebrate Hallowe’en.

I used to love Hallowe’en as a kid. What was not to like? You walked around the neighborhood, collecting sugarrific swag. Then you went home, dumped out the contents of your sack, made a cursory check for hidden razor blades, and ate until you retched. Not to mention those great costumes...

I recall that there was one house at which children were invited inside for hot apple cider and donuts. An elderly couple lived there, a couple who evidently had not gotten the memo. Donuts? Cider? Pfaugh! Where the hell are the Zagnut bars?

Nowadays, anyone who invited kids into their home on Hallowe’en for cider and donuts would most likely be arrested. Or sued. Possibly murdered. Or all three. But as an adult, I miss those simpler times when that kind of hospitality wasn’t flat-out creepy.

Now, I look forward to Hallowe’en like most people look forward to a high colonic. [I mean normal people. I’m aware that there are plenty of people who enjoy that sort of thing. Perverts.] This is mainly because we live in a neighborhood that has plenty of little kids. And that means getting up and answering the Gawd-damned doorbell every 3.2 seconds. Gets in the way of my TV watching and general ass-sitting activities.

OK, some of the little rug-rats are cute, I’ll give ’em that much. But once they’re over (say) six years old, they shouldn’t need prodding as to the Basic Elements of the Ritual:

1. Ring doorbell.
2. Say “Trick or treat!” This part - the Announcement of Purpose - is important. Gratuitous comments about smelling one’s feet and/or giving one something good to eat are permissible but not required.
3. Hold out sack or other container.
4. Receive candy.
5. Say “Thank you.” This part is also important, lest you grow up to be a Big Honkin’ Ass-Hole™.

It ain’t complicated, folks.

Oh, yeah. One other rule at Chez Elisson: Do not ask for UNICEF money. A formerly worthy organization, UNICEF is part and parcel of The International Alliance of Thieving Whores ’n’ Hypocrites the UN, so I no longer give them my money. Ask for UNICEF money and I will tell you to peddle your papers elsewhere, and I may just shove that collection box up your snoot.

And after you turn thirteen, it’s time to knock off the trick-or-treating activities. Hordes of teenagers wandering the ’hood on Hallowe’en night make me a little nervous. That’s because I was once a teenager, and I remember the kind of hell we used to raise. Once your voice changes and you start to grow hair on your face (guys, this means you, too), you can go bag groceries at the local Publix to earn your candy.

With all this said, there’s really only one thing I miss about the H-days of old. Having grown up in the Northeast, I like the fall weather. Cold. Crisp. Leaves turning their fall colors. And Hallowe’en is just not the same down South when it’s like as not over 70 degrees. Here in Georgia, the evenings this time of the year usually are cool, but the blast-furnace summer of 2016 puts me in mind of Houston - Sweat City - our home in the 1990’s, where it conceivably could be over 80 degrees on Hallowe’en. To me, the combination of Hallowe’en and the Texas heat never really worked... and that’s what inspired me to write this poem, which I trot out like clockwork this time of year:
Hallowe’en in Houston
or
Yes, Climate Does Make a Difference

It’s Hallowe’en in Houston: the sweat is on the pumpkin
And children dress as monsters in the heat.
They stalk the stifling streets and visit every city bumpkin
Ringing doorbells, shouting “Trick or treat!”

The torrid Texas towns are filled with tiny ghouls and ghosts
With Fahrenheit approaching 93 -
They look much less like children, and more like little roasts
Extorting molten Hershey bars from me.

I remember in New England, where the temperatures were frigid,
A chilly Hallowe’en would mark the season.
You’d go collecting candy and come home all icy rigid -
It just ain’t spooky if you aren’t freezin’!
[Adapted from a post originally published in October 2004.]

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

COFFEE, ANON



The blessèd Product of that noble Bean
That waketh me to do my daily Task
Doth so invigorate my feeble Brain
(A Boon exceeding all that one may ask)

It causeth Thoughts to run at rapid Pace,
Removing Dust from Consciousness’s Vault:
A Smile doth appear upon mine Face
I’m ready, now, to face the Day’s Assault.

We must remark upon its other Use
More precious than a Prince’s costly Jewel:
The dark Elixir stimulates one’s Juice,
Thus helping drop the Kids off at the Pool.

Of Benisons this Nectar may accrue,
Thine Counting must include the Number Two!

Friday, October 21, 2016

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

I’m not sure what made me think of John Jones, AKA J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. But think of him I did as we were dining a few nights ago in the hamlet of Rosendale, New York.

The Martian Manhunter, a Silver Age superhero who made his debut in 1955, was capable of numerous Weird Feats of the sort one would expect from a green-skinned alien humanoid. If my memory serves - no assurance, given that a looooong time has elapsed since I actually read any comics that featured the character - my recollection is that he was telepathic. And able to solve crimes. And green. That’s about it.

Oh, he also had a nifty outfit: tight shorts, boots, cape, and a bizarre set of crossed suspenders. Good Gawd. Given that outfit, his ability to disguise himself as a mid-1950’s Average White Dude should also be counted as one of his superpowers.


J’onn J’onzz begins his crimefighting career on Earth, in Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #225 (1955). [Image credit: iFanboy.]

But here’s the thing that confounds me unto this day: In John Jones/J’onn J’onzz, you had a superhero whose secret identity consisted mainly of spelling his name differently. Switching from normal whitebread orthography John Jones to urban rapper-style J’onn J’onzz was, apparently, all that was necessary for him to reveal his phat Martian Manhunterly skill set.

It baffles science!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

THE FACEBOOK HOUR
or, THANKS A LOT, MARK

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the light is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Facebook Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The soft sound of gentle clicks
On a smartphone or maybe a keyboard,
A cacophony of ticky-ticks.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Ensconced in a sofa or chair,
My children, with raptured attention,
Caressing their iPhones with care.

A grumbling and then a silence:
Thus I know that those merry eyes
Must be focused on some dopey videogame -
Well, color me unsurprised.

The Book now devours our attention
Until we can think of nought else
Than political memes that divide us
Until all Antarctica melts.

Do you think electronic graffiti
Inscribed on a pocket-sized wall,
Will keep us amused more than pills, dope, and booze
As we watch our society fall?

Alas, Facebook will be here forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till our civilization shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

[Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

THE REPORTS HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED



A few nights ago, as Dee and I were turning in for the evening, Edith joined us. She nestled in comfortably between us, and allowed us to give her a few skritches and ear rubs.

Edith is a sweet kitty, but she can be a bit “tetchy” - a common character trait of young cats. The slightest unexpected noise can startle her. Just how easy it is to startle her was promptly demonstrated when I released, quite without warning, a dramatic fart. Edith jumped two feet straight up in the air and proceeded to scamper under our bed at lightning speed. (I’ve observed the same result merely from scratching the bedclothes: It isn’t only farts with me, just so you know.)

I saw a similar, if not identical, reaction, from one of my fellow congregants the other day as we socialized prior to commencing our Rosh Hashanah services.

Just to interject a bit of explanation, Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year - is one of those rare days on which even the most casually observant Red Sea Pedestrians will appear in synagogue. There is generally a packed house, and people will show up well prior to the start of services in order to ensure that they get (1) a good seat, and (2) a decent parking space. The first ensures that one may enjoy the proceedings without needing binoculars; the second that one need not walk more than half a mile between car and synagogue. It is a local tradition that these early birds are provided with supplies of coffee and doughnuts, perhaps to help keep them awake through the lengthy sermon. As we drink our coffee, we exchange pleasantries with people who, in many cases, we may not have seen for a year.

Thus it was that, as I prepared to descend upon the coffee-urn, I received a New Year’s greeting from a fellow congregant who was, apparently, both happy and shocked to see me.

It seems that my name is unusually similar to that of a fellow congregant - so much so that we are frequently mistaken for one another by people who do not know us well. And, sad to report, my nomenclatural doppelgänger passed away a couple of weeks ago.

When my fellow congregant had seen the announcement of the death, he called a mutual friend immediately. What happened to Elisson? I never knew he was even sick!

Nope, was the response. That wasn’t Elisson. That was Ellisohn.

But it’s one thing to get reassurance over the phone, and quite another to get visual confirmation... which explains the surprised look I got.

To paraphrase an often misquoted line from Mark Twain, the reports of my death were not so much exaggerated as they were the result of confusion. And I - keyn ayin hara - am still here!

Now: off to go startle the cat. Where da beans at?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

THE MUSICAL AGE

In 1969, Zager and Evans had a hit single: “In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus).” It was noteworthy mainly for being the only hit single Zager and Evans ever had. They managed the rare feat of dropping a chart-topping hit (it was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks that summer), after which they never again made the charts. Impressive.

I hated that song, partly because it was played to death in the summer of ’69 and partly on account of the jejune lyrics, but mostly because it spoke of a future that I would never live to see. The year 2525, after all, was a good ways off. It would be the year of my father’s six-hundredth birthday.

There were other songs, though... songs that hinted at a future that I would perhaps live to see. The most noteworthy (and popular) probably was the Beatles number from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: “When I’m Sixty-Four. ”

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?

 

You’ll be older too
And if you say the word
I could stay with you

 

I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?

 

Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight
If it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave

 

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?


Paul McCartney had written the song as a youngster of sixteen, and it was frequently employed to fill time at The Cavern in Hamburg. It was the first track recorded for the Sergeant Pepper album. A music-hall style number, it paints a charming picture of a young man speculating about the possible life he and the lady he fancies might have after long years together. Will he still be useful? he wonders. Will he be loved? Tolerated? Good questions to be asked by anyone in a relationship of long standing.

Sergeant Pepper came out on June 1, 1967. I was fourteen at the time, a high-school freshman four months away from my fifteenth birthday. Actually being sixty-four was quite far from my mind, it being an event that, for me, would be some forty-nine years down the road. Damn near a half-century.

The Beatles envisioned as oldsters:
painting ­©1969 Michael Leonard.
But time flies when you’re having fun, they say - more accurately, it flies whether or not you’re having fun. And here we are, with my officially having attained Beatles Age as of the time and date of this posting. It saddens me that two of the Beatles never made it this far.

It is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to boot. That’s fairly unusual, but who am I to argue with the vagaries of the lunisolar calendar?

Compared to my fourteen-year-old self, I have definitely lost some hair. Not all of it, thankfully. There’s no need for me to mend a fuse when the lights have gone, owing mainly to our having circuit breakers. I can, nevertheless, manage light electrical work, although plumbing is another matter.

I don’t do the garden or dig the weeds: I pay someone to do those tasks. And Dee doesn’t knit. But I hope I continue to stay on her good side. We have another Musical Milestone to which we aspire.

I want to get to Simon and Garfunkel Age, when it’s so terribly strange to be seventy. (“Old Friends,” from the 1968 Bookends album.) Hey, only six years to go!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 26

Yet more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives. For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

Our latest entry:

Möbius strip-tease [moeh-bi-us strip tiz] (n) - a joke that is somehow self-referential, oxymoronic, or that uses the self-abnegating structure of the Grandfather Paradox (which see). Named for the non-orientable geometric surface that has only one side and one boundary, a Möbius strip-tease is a form of Groucho Marxism (“I wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member.”)

An example: “I’m a Scorpio... but Scorpios don’t believe in astrology.”

[A tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Barry Campbell for the example.]

Thursday, September 29, 2016

THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON


The Clancy Shelf... a small niche within the Elisson Library.

Back around the turn of the century, Tom Clancy came out with a novel titled The Bear and the Dragon. Now, sixteen years after having read it, I am a bit fuzzy on the specifics of the story except for remembering that it involved the intrepid Jack Ryan as well as Russia (the Bear) and China (the Dragon).

I haven’t given much thought to The Bear and the Dragon in all those years despite its occupying a prominent shelf in our den’s bookcase along with several of its Tom Clancy-penned brethren. And yet the Bear and the Dragon are on my mind all the time.

I’ve written about The Bear before... the mysterious lancinating pain that had become my all-too-frequent visitor over the past several months. I had figured out that The Bear was a manifestation of trigeminal neuralgia, and my neurologist agreed with my self-diagnosis. Happily, I have been successful at chasing The Bear away (or at least quieting him down) with the right kind of medication.

But now I have The Dragon to deal with, too.

Most people get the occasional floaters - spots in the field of vision caused by debris in the eye’s vitreous humor (the clear jelly that fills the part of the eyeball behind the lens capsule). Floaters are usually no big deal, unless they’re really huge... in which case more serious problems may be lurking. Yesterday I suddenly noticed a massive new floater in my right eye, one that bore a striking resemblance to - you guessed it - a dragon. Knowing that a floater that size can be accompanied by retinal detachment, I called my ophthalmologist first thing this morning. (Anything involving the retina is really scary business... nothing to screw around with.)

After my Op-Doc gave me a thorough lookover, I am happy to report that my retina is fine. So far. But I have a vitreous detachment, apparently a fairly common condition in people who are, ahhh, of mature years.

Well, fuck. I am now officially an Old Guy.

The Eyeball Croaker tells me that The Dragon will be a long-term companion: Vitreous detachments do not resolve themselves spontaneously. They tend to shrink and even vanish in time, but that is simply the result of the brain training itself to ignore them. Already I see hopeful signs, with Mr. Floaty looking less like a dragon and more like a tarantula... or a wad of hair, or a fly on my glasses, or a dark booger. I suppose I will have to learn to live with him.

I envision a Kim Stanley Robinson - Tom Clancy mash-up, one that will describe the remainder of my days on Earth: The Years of Bear and Dragon. Feh.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 25

Still more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives. For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

For you delectation, may I suggest this useful coinage:

Panamanian wax [pa-na-mei-ni-an waks] (n) - a type of grooming technique in which hot wax is used to remove pubic hair from the female pelvic region, vulva, labia, perineum, and anus. Unlike the Brazilian wax, in which all hair is removed, the Panamanian wax leaves a strip of jungle on either side of the canal.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 24

Yet more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives. For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

Here’s today’s entry:

grachitz [gra-khitz] (n) - any disgusting material of the sort that tends to accumulate in cracks and crevices and/or the necks of ketchup bottles. A faux-Yiddish coinage.

“I can’t stand to take a bath at Grandma’s house any more. The drain in her tub is half stopped up with fifty years worth of grachitz and hair. Feh.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

THE BURY PATCH

Dee uses the above phrase to refer to a cemetery. “It’s where the dead people live,” she’d say as we would drive past one. (That pun, I found out some time ago, only works in English.)

But we have several “bury patches” in our house: They’re the kitty litter boxes, and they illustrate the fact that cats, like humans, are very individualistic in their personal habits.

Edith in her former home.
Stella, for example, will leave a pee-muffin in the box (we use clumping litter) and make no attempt to cover it. On other occasions, she will deposit a fragrant load of Kitty-Dookie atop the bed of litter, whereupon she will scratch uselessly on the side of the box. It’s as if to say, “I know I’m supposed to be scratching something after I pinch a loaf, but I have no idea why.”

Edith, on the other hand, is quite fastidious. Her box is fitted with both a cover and a door for maximum privacy. And she buries her by-products as deep as the ancient Egyptians buried their Pharaohs. (One time, in Pharaonic fashion, she even brought a toy into the box as a sacrifice to the Afterworld of Cat-Poop.) Cleaning her box is not unlike a piratical treasure hunt.

Just call me Captain Jack Spoorow. Or Captain Kiddney... digging for buried doody booty. Arrrh!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

ADVANCED PLACEMENT: A 100-WORD STORY

The kids at Junior Einsteins Preschool were not your average rugrats.

The privileged and wealthy of New York endured a waitlist so lengthy, they would rush to apply for a slot before a fertilized ovum was fully implanted. That merely entitled you to submit an application. Acceptance of your special little Bitsy or Geoffrey was far from guaranteed.

And once your child was admitted, it wasn’t all finger paints, glue, and construction paper. That’s not how you trained future Captains of Industry.

The only problem was the homework. It was a bitch trying to help your kid with his Blockulus.

Monday, September 19, 2016

INTERNATIONAL STALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY

... thud ... thud ...thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ... thud ...

(Arrrh. This joke be stupid.)

IN THE WILD WEST: A 100-WORD GROANER

Way out West, Deadwood was a rip-roaring lawless mess of a place. There was only one person who could stand up to Al Swearingen, the corrupt owner of the local hostelry.

It should be noted that “hostelry” included more than simply lodging: whores and alcohol were also freely available. Swearingen was an evil bastard, but he ran a straightforward business provided you didn’t get in his way. Bad things could befall you otherwise.

Whenever Al got too far out of line, Jane would pepper him with olive pits until he’d beg for mercy.

Of course you’ve heard of Calamata Jane.

“FRESH PEPPER, SIR?”: A 100-WORD STORY

As a child, Perry had grown up wanting to wield the peppermill in the local Italian restaurant.

It was no easy career choice. The Guild of Peppermillers insisted on lengthy study and a lengthier apprenticeship. You had to know everything about the many types of pepper and the various milling techniques to be employed to achieve the proper fineness. Perry nevertheless aced his exams, landing a job immediately.

Unfortunately, Perry hated it. Carpal tunnel syndrome drove him nuts.

“How’s the job?” friends asked.

“A real grind.”

Alas, the Parmesan cheese gig was just as bad. It grated... on his nerves.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

FROM THE ELISSON ARCHIVE

In the process of cleaning out our Basemental Archive of excess inventory, I try to keep in mind that old maxim: “One man’s detritus is another man’s delightus.”

It makes sense, in a certain way. After all, I can’t be the only one to amass huge collections of useless ephemera. Matchbooks. Hotel soap. Shoe mitts. Shoe horns. Airline first-class meal menus. Airline toiletry kits. Hotel stationery. Other people probably pack-rat this stuff too, although I cannot imagine a secondary market for it. Nevertheless, we humans like to collect stuff, a practice that distinguishes us from a handful of animals.

Most of this crap has been given the old heave-ho, but I still have a pile of old TV Guide magazines. I suspect eBay is the best route to get rid of these, but we shall see. For there are little treasures amongst the dross.

F’r instance, the TV Guide pictured in this post? I has it.

And there’s this one:



You’re looking at the TV Guide Fall Preview issue for the 1966-67 television season... an issue that is fifty years old this week. Back then, most shows would premiere in September and would run until May or June, when summer re-runs would take over until the next season began. The Fall Preview Issue was where you could learn about all the New Crap that was going to be on the tube (that’d be a cathode-ray tube, the kind of teevee we all had until flatscreens came along) that year. And the 1966-67 season was kinda sorta historic. Take a look at some of the shows that got their start that season:

Family Affair - with Brian Keith as the footloose bachelor saddled with three orphans, and Sebastian Cabot as the English manservant who actually does the heavy lifting.

The Monkees - Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, David Jones, and Mickey Dolenz star in the adventures of the eponymous band, a half-assed knockoff of The Beatles that somehow manages to come up with some half-decent music.

Star Trek - Perhaps you may have heard of this one. Interestingly, the preview in TV Guide refers to Mr. Spock as a Vulcanian from the planet Vulcanis. At least they got the half-Earthling part right. Today, incidentally, is the fiftieth anniversary of the show’s official premiere: The episode broadcast on September 8, 1966 was a “sneak preview.”

The Jean Arthur Show - Cancelled after only four weeks.

Rat Patrol - based on the adventures of a pack of desert commandos during the WWII North Africa campaign.

Mission Impossible - Before it was a movie starring Tom Cruise, it was this.

It’s About Time - take two dopey astronauts and time-travel their asses to the Stone Age. Hilarity ensues. Starring Joe E. Ross (the “Ooh-ooh” guy from Car 54, Where Are You?) and Imogene Coca, from Your Show of Shows.

That Girl - with Marlo Thomas as an early incarnation of a character that would later resurface on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Ally McBeal years later.

The Green Hornet - a show that suffered from a lack of good buzz.

Time Tunnel - I had high hopes for this show, which featured a time-travel plot device. But the producer was Irwin Allen, thus guaranteeing suckage on an epic scale.

The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. - a poor knockoff of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., this time with (duh) a female lead.

The Pruitts of Southampton - with Phyllis Diller. Great show, provided you could tolerate more than five minutes of Phyllis Diller.

If you’re old enough to have heard of all these shows, then you’re pretty damned old. What surprises me is how many of them became enduringly embedded in our popular culture (some more enduringly than others). And looking at the listings, you could see all kinds of shows that were still in their first runs. The Munsters! Bonanza!

Now, in the age of 2,000 channels, streaming video, and play-on-demand, the notion of an actual weekly print magazine that told you everything you needed to know about the week’s programs seems rather quaint. If you wanted to watch a show then, you had to park your butt in front of the set when the show was being broadcast... no home recording. No whipping out your smartphone and telling your DVR to snag the latest episode of “Cute Cooks Wearing Cutoffs, Cooking Cookies in a Cookoff” from the Food Network.

Sometimes I miss those days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A VIEW TO THE PAST

In the process of deinventorying and cleaning out the Elisson Basemental Archive ’n’ Miscellaneous Debris Storage Facility, Dee came upon an item I had not seen for almost two decades. I knew it was somewhere, but the “where” had escaped me.

It was a Brumberger 3-D slide viewer, a little contraption that was designed for looking at 3-D transparencies. Made sometime in the early 1950’s, my parents had purchased it some 63-plus years ago.



In the box with the viewer were a handful of cardboard slide mounts, each one containing a matched set of two Kodachrome transparencies. You would stick a mount in the viewer, look through the binocular eyepiece, and push a button to illuminate the photo in all its three-dimensional glory.

Imagine the wonderful things you could see in realistic stereovision! The Matterhorn. The Eiffel Tower. The Empire State Building. Pike’s Peak. But no, my parents had bought the device for a much more prosaic application: to look at photos of their baby.

How they got the damned kid to sit still for the photographer, I have no idea. Probably they drugged him. There seem to be two different sets of photos, one earlier, the other taken some months later. In the first set, the kid clutches a blanket while parked on a bed fitted with white sheets.  He does not look happy in many of these pictures, unless you stretch the definition of “happy” to include “mildly bilious.” In the later session, clothed in a fashionable little set of plaid overalls, the little guy looks like he has put on a few ounces and displays a more positive demeanor. Possibly this is because of the various vinyl toys with which he is playing. A giraffe! A fish! A lamb! Look there, is that a smile? Or is he just squeezing out a deuce?

The viewer needed a little reconditioning. The D-size batteries that had once powered it had unleashed a flood of corrosion that had to be cleaned up. Happily, a little work with Mr. Dremel and a pair of needle-nosed pliers and the old Brumberger was right as rain.

As for the pictures, it had been a long time since I had been able to look at them... but there they were, with their familiar stereovision charm. They had held up pretty well for having been about sixty-three years old... better, perhaps, than their subject. And I cannot exactly describe the sensation of looking at little old me in three dimensions. It is a peculiar feeling.



Of course, you’ve already figured out that the photos were of Yours Truly... probably around the time you reached the word “bilious.”

Thursday, September 8, 2016

OUR FIFTY YEAR MISSION...

...to boldly go where no man has gone before.


By the time this issue of TV Guide came out, Star Trek had already established itself as a hit... and Leonard Nimoy’s Mister Spock as an unlikely sex symbol.
 
Yes, I watched that very first “preview week” episode on September 8, 1966 on our dinky little black-and-white television set. “The Man Trap,” it was titled, cleverly playing on both the allure of old girlfriends and the lethal salt-sucking alien featured in the episode.

I can remember the first time I saw that iconic image of the USS Enterprise swooshing across the screen (never mind that space is silent). The introduction! The theme music, high-pitched and eerie (to be toned down in later episodes)! This was gonna be great!

Star Trek, as it turned out, was great - very different from its space-oriented predecessor, the disappointing and hokey Lost in Space. It actually had SF elements in it, leavened by short-skirted female officers and romantic subplots. Star Trek was something new. Something special.

Of course, we hadn’t yet heard about Gene Roddenberry’s one-line network pitch: “Wagon Train to the Stars.” Nevertheless, the suits bought it... and despite the cheap sets and special effects, there was enough of that something special to keep us watching it, even though the first season was the only really good one. Transporters! Velour uniforms!

William Shatner, the irrepressible, scene-chewing, and ever-horny Captain James Tiberius Kirk, was no doubt shocked to see that Leonard Nimoy’s mysterious, emotionless Mister Spock was the character that had all the teenage girls in a lather. Must’ve been those pointy ears.   

Half a century later, it’s a huge franchise. Multiple television series, multiple film series, and yet it is still going strong, thanks to a mysterious chemistry between the characters that, even when seen for the first time through the eyes of a (not quite) fourteen-year-old kid, was instantly recognizable as a hopeful vision of the future.

Star Trek... may you and your spawn live long and prosper!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

ON THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS

Some of us believe in reincarnation. It’s an attractive enough idea, that of eternal souls transmigrating - being born over and over into this vale of tears and joy - ostensibly for some sort of Higher Purpose.

In early 1997, reincarnation was a critical element of Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun, a biography of sorts of the Dalai Lama. The film’s story begins in 1937, at which time the thirteenth Dalai Lama has been deceased for four years. A group of monks visits a family in a remote part of Tibet. [Is there any part of Tibet that isn’t remote? - E.] After exchanging a few pleasantries, the monks get down to business, taking out an assortment of trivial personal objects and placing them on a mat in front of the family’s two-year-old child, who proceeds to select several of the items and claim them as his own (“Mine!”). They are objects without a scintilla of use to a typical two-year-old, but the child is insistent and, apparently, unerring, for after the final object is identified the monks all bow low and, in complete awe, intone the word Kundun - the Presence. The boy is the fourteenth reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

I’m not entirely sure about whether reincarnation is something that actually happens, or whether it represents the kind of wishful thinking we humans are all to prone to indulge in, the hope that somehow, some way, our souls are immortal and can outlive us. But I do believe that we can have strong connections to those who no longer walk this earth with us... and by way of evidence, I can offer a story.

The story concerns our friend Houston Steve, his wife Debby (who, alas, passed away last year), and their granddaughter Isla, who, at nearly two years of age, is comparable to the young Dalai Lama in the tale above. Debby spent as much time as possible with her granddaughter while she could, and they developed a considerable bond. But then Debby was gone, with only some photo albums to serve as a direct reminder - aside, of course, from frequent visits with Grandpa.

Then comes this weekend, the weekend immediately before Debby’s Yahrzeit - the anniversary of her passing according to the Hebrew calendar. Isla and her parents are here in town, and, along with Houston Steve, they head to the synagogue.

Isla has never been to synagogue, yet enroute she repeats, “Gamma, gamma” several times. Upon arriving, as she walks through the corridor adjacent to the Holocaust memorial garden, she is inexplicably drawn to it, crying out, “Gamma, gamma!” Daddy opens the door to the garden and the child rushes out, making a beeline directly to the memorial brick inscribed with her Grandma’s name. In her hand she clutches a pebble, and when she reaches the brick, she repeatedly taps the pebble against it.

There are times when, looking at Isla, we all see her genetic heritage: We know exactly whose granddaughter she is. She is almost a Debby in miniature, all the way down to her feisty, unsinkable attitude. She is obviously no revenant, no reincarnation of her beloved Grandma, having been born almost a year too soon. But, short of reincarnation, can there be some sort of mysterious connection between those of use on either side of the Great Divide? An entwining of souls, perhaps? You tell me... but I think I have all the evidence I need.


[Photo: Neil Caron]

Postscript: Kevin Kim offers a thoughtful examination of transmigration and reincarnation from the perspective of Asian religion, notably Buddhism and Hinduism.

Friday, September 2, 2016

KISMET, YOU FOOL



Look at me
I’m a kitty with pantaloons
I live in a great big house
A kitty with pantaloons
If I should make a poop
It might stick to my pantaloons
And then my Daddy comes
With scissors and brush

[sung to the tune of “Stranger in Paradise”]

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

MEETING MY MATCH(ES)


Forty-two years’ worth of matches in one sulfurous pile. Do you recognize any of them?

Whenever the Mistress of Sarcasm comes home, inevitably there will be some time spent in a frenzy of organization and Superfluous Inventory Reduction. There’s plenty of material to work with at Chez Elisson, after all. And people of the Mistress’s generation tend to look at possessions differently than do we. In a nutshell, our generation purchased stuff while hers tends to rent it. As an example, we bought our music in hardcopy - LP’s, CD’s, cassettes - while they rent theirs by subscribing to Spotify and Pandora.

As for me, it’s not that I am a hoarder, per se. It’s just that I tend to, errr, accumulate stuff... much of which has little, if any, utility. And while there may be sentimental value attached to some of it, and actual value contained in some of it, a lot of it is just plain crap. If I had had to pay to move it around from place to place over the years, I probably would have looked at much more of it with a jaundiced eye. But that was never the case: Working for the Great Corporate Salt Mine had the benefit of household relocations at corporate expense.

I’ve already confessed to my irrational attachment to hotel soap, of which we conducted a massive deinventorying about eight years ago. Well, most of what remained after that clear-out is gone now... along with 99% of my huge (and hugely flammable) match collection.

Collecting matches is a mostly useless endeavor these days. Fewer restaurants permit smoking, and fewer people smoke, so the souvenir matchbook is getting thinner on the ground. But as I went through the enormous pile of Fire-Sticks I had gathered over the past forty-two or so years, there were a few that triggered some old memories.

There were a handful from my post-university cross-country trip in mid-1974. There were plenty from our sojourns in Houston, including one from the (now defunct) restaurant where I proposed to Dee back in 1977. There were some from our honeymoon. There were several from the various foreign outposts I used to visit back in the Salt Mine days. And there were some that recalled memorable dinners that Dee and I had shared, including a magical evening at Greycliff in Nassau.

With only a very few exceptions, they all went out. The memories, you see... the memories are still with us. And now there will be that much less stuff to tote around with us, wherever our travels take us.

This, by the way, was just the tip of the Deinventorying Iceberg. But it was important.

Attachment to stuff is not the path to serenity, sayeth the Buddha. Better we should be attached to people.

Good advice: I think I’ll try to follow it. But I’m not getting rid of my old Mad magazines just yet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

ALBERT: A MICROSCOPIC 100-WORD STORY

Albert Amoeba was feeling a bit out of sorts.

It wasn’t that he was hungry. He engulfed pretty much everything he encountered, and so far nothing had killed him. His vacuoles worked fine, with nary a clog.

It wasn’t that he was horny. As a one-celled organism, Albie didn’t have to deal with any of the angst of relationships with the opposite sex. For him, there was no opposite sex. It simplified life immensely.

No, he was just out of sorts. It hurt whenever he tried to move.

Damn, thought Albie. Maybe it was time to go see the pseudopodiatrist.

Monday, August 29, 2016

THE LONESOME DEATH OF WILLY WONKA


Gene Wilder, né Jerome Silberman (1933-2016). Barukh Dayan Emet.

Poor Wonka’s dead
Poor Willy Wonka’s dead
All gather round his coffin now and cry
He had tickets made of gold
And he wasn’t all that old
Oh, why did such a feller have to die?

Poor Wonka’s dead
Poor Willy Wonka’s dead
About to face the awesome, mighty Judge (mighty Judge)
Like a choc’late - in a box
He will sleep ’midst dirt and rocks
But in Heaven he can eat his fill of fudge.

(Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein)

Another thread of our pop culture tapestry has come unravelled: Variety reports that actor Gene Wilder passed away today at the age of 83 from complications related to Alzhemer’s disease.

Wilder was a comic genius, with movies such as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Stir Crazy to his credit. What stands out in three of these four films is that Wilder is more of a co-star than star, with Zero Mostel, Cleavon Little, and Richard Pryor seemingly taking up most of the screen time... yet without Wilder, those films would have fallen flat. In the fourth - the outstanding Young Frankenstein - Wilder is truly the star, burning with manic energy.

For me - and I suspect, many of my Esteemed Readers as well - Gene Wilder’s defining role was that of Willy Wonka, the mysterious, eponymous candy-producing entrepreneur of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Mischievous, impish, sweet, and at times sadistic and even scary, Wilder’s version of Wonka defined the role so thoroughly that even the talents of Johnny Depp couldn’t make a dent in it. I still get a lump in my throat at the end of that movie, despite having seen it at least a dozen times.

As one of my friends has pointed out, a measure of the man is that nobody ever seems to have ever said one bad thing about him... a most unusual and impressive legacy, especially in the acting business.

Perhaps in the next world he will be reunited with one-time wife Gilda Radner, whom he loved deeply. Together, they could make the firmament ring with laughter. But here on Earth, we must shed our tears.

Ave atque vale, Gene! You will be missed.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

R.I.P. FRED


Fred. Requiescat in pace.

I was saddened to hear that Fred, one of the resident kitties at Eric’s fabled Compound, has gone on to his forever home on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.

We’ve known Fred for ten years, during which time he has quietly terrorized the local Small Animals and Birds and kept us entertained at Eric’s annual bloggy birthday bashes. We’ve watched him sun himself on the back porch, cuddle with us in the Garage and Billiard Room, and act companionable with fellow kitties Ginger and, later, Bob.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to our feline friends. They stay with us long enough for us to love them, short enough to break our hearts when they take their inevitable leave.

Ave atque vale, Fred! May you find good hunting on the other side of the Bridge. Perhaps you will meet Ginger, Hakuna, Matata, Neighbor, and Bernadette there, and you can entertain them with fanciful stories... punctuated, no doubt, with plenty of ellipses.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

ON THE HALF-SOUR PICKLE AS A SOURCE OF CREATIVE INSPIRATION


Half-sour pickles. Image: Pickle Licious.

Today I was breakfasting at the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium (as is my occasional practice) with Dee and the Mistress of Sarcasm (a less occasional practice, but much more delightful).

As the servitor took our order, I asked her, “Does that come with a pickle?” She assured me that it did, and I asked her, in turn, to deliver unto me a nice, crisp, bright green half-sour pickle.

For I am a fan of the half-sour pickle. If you are fortunate, you may live in an area where this style of pickle is available - sometimes in jars, sometimes in vats, always refrigerated. The ideal half-sour pickle is bright green, with a pronounced crunch. As half-sours age, their green becomes dull as they soften into the garlicky kosher sour pickles many folks love. But I likes ’em young and crisp.

But this post was not intended to be a disquisition on the half-sour pickle. It’s more an observation on my twisted mind...

...because no sooner had the servitor walked away than I suddenly had an image in my head, a picture of Ebenezer Scrooge from the conclusion of A Christmas Carol, the scene where our repentant and newly Christmas-observant protagonist looks out the window and, seeing a boy on the street below, promptly sends him on an errand to procure an enormous prize-winning turkey, the which to send to miserable, humble Bob Cratchit as an unexpected Christmas gift. Only in my head, it was no turkey. It was an enormous half-sour pickle.

I related this vision to Dee and my daughter, who - almost simultaneously - began to hum the familiar strains to “Entrance of the Gladiators,” a bit of music that you may know as “that dopey circus music you usually hear played on a steam calliope when the clowns rush in.”

Yeah, I know. I’m more than just a little nutty sometimes. (OK, most times.) The Mistress said it best several months ago. During an earlier visit this year, as the three of us were taking a lengthy walk along one of the thoroughfares near the neighborhood, I asked Dee to pose in front of the T-Mobile store.

“Why do you want a picture of me in front of the T-Mobile store?” she asked... a perfectly reasonable question.

“Because I want to caption it “La Donna è T-Mobile.”

Of course Dee refused, but when the Mistress overheard this little exchange, her comment was, “What’s it like in there?” She was referring, of course, to my noggin.

Well, now we know what it looks like in there... but it’s still a bit hard to explain what’s going on in there.

As for that Christmas Carol story - the very thought of which so bemused my wife and daughter - I am happy to present it below. I call it...

A Shabbes Carol

“What’s to-day?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in school clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“To-day?” replied the boy. “Why, Friday.”

“It’s Friday - Erev Shabbes!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Dybbuks have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”

“Hallo!” returned the boy.

“Do you know the Delicatessen, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the huge half-sour pickle that was in the barrel there - Not those little dill pickles: the big crisp green half-sour?”

“What, the one as big as a certain part of Ron Jeremy?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck.”

“It’s floating there now,” replied the boy.

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”

“Gevalt!” exclaimed the boy.

“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell them to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with that great green warty bastard, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with it in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown.”

The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.

“I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s!” whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. “He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim...”